We live in a world where it’s easy to point out what’s wrong. So you may have missed it when the Government Accountability Office found a defense program that’s well managed.
In its annual assessment of selected weapon programs released in March, GAO pointed out how nine programs that were completing design reviews ranked against their best management practices. Of the nine, the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) rose to the top. That’s a compliment to the tri-national board of governors that oversees the program and to the NATO project management agency that is executing it.
From the start, MEADS has been about saving tax dollars. Funding from national partners Germany and Italy has covered almost half of MEADS development costs and continues through 2013. And there is no overrun. Other than two government-requested changes to incorporate a PAC-3 MSE (missile segment enhancement) and an additional BMC4I (battle management, command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) configuration, no money has been added to the MEADS contract value or to the annual funding profile.
Moreover, the main delay in the program is the result of a protest by the losing contractor, Raytheon. It lasted two years and disrupted the multinational funding stream for five years.
Now, development of MEADS is essentially done, and the system is ready to demonstrate what it can do. System elements are set to begin flight testing at White Sands Missile Range this year. The president’s budget request of $800 million for the next two years will be enough for three flight tests. After that, the program would need $1 billion more from the United States to enter production, not the $2.8 billion figure critics tack on without substantiation.
MEADS must go forward because the 40-year-old Patriot system is costly to man and maintain. In fact, the U.S. government has awarded more than $3 billion in contracts in the past six years to support, repair and upgrade Patriot systems while investing $1.5 billion in development of next-generation MEADS.
More importantly, MEADS will save the nation tens of billions of dollars over the next 20 years, while no one really knows what it could cost to continue to “upgrade” Patriot within the limits of its aging design. Germany studied this issue and decided to adopt MEADS because it produced better performance for a fraction of the price compared to Patriot. The Defense Department should ask GAO for its own unbiased analysis.
In terms of performance, a single 360-degree MEADS battery defends a larger area than three Patriot batteries because they can’t protect their backs or cover the range that MEADS is capable of defending. U.S. forces faced ballistic missile threats from multiple directions in Operation Iraqi Freedom and it was only good fortune that no enemy missile was launched outside the sector of Patriot coverage. Our enemies learned, and we cannot count on that good fortune in the future.
Because MEADS is efficient and mobile, a basic battery takes only three transport flights to be ready for operations. Currently, Patriot demands a significant portion of our military airlift assets to enter a theater, which forces airborne divisions to wait. Placed side by side with MEADS, the U.S. military would need five times the manpower and 10 times the transport planes to deploy Patriot in a crisis and defend the same area. Measured simply in fuel costs, Patriot is a guzzler.
An independent cost-benefit analysis would certainly confirm that continuing to prop up an aging 1970s-era system in the U.S. Army inventory over the next 20 years is not cost effective. That analysis would clearly favor fielding a state-of-the-art air missile defense system designed for supportability, mobility and transportability, and protects U.S. troops against next-generation threats. Congressional leaders are faced with two options to satisfy U.S. air and missile defense requirements — MEADS or Patriot. An independent life cycle cost analysis will verify what the Germans already know — that MEADS will cost significantly less than Patriot to own and operate while providing better performance.
U.S. leaders should choose the most cost-effective path forward that is based on an unbiased cost assessment from the GAO, and nothing else.Dave Berganini is president of MEADS International.
Editor’s Note: The Pentagon recently suspended the international missile defense program known as the Medium Extended Air Defense System, or MEADS, a joint program with Germany and Italy. Defense Department officials have stated the program experienced significant cost overruns and delays in development. MEADS International, part of Lockheed Martin Corp., is the U.S. prime contractor.